However, bosses in the Banjo-Kazooie games weren't particularly prominent until Banjo Tooie, the second one. The first game only had a few enemies that could be considered bosses, but its final one is so brilliantly done that it beats every other one in the franchise.
Through a small opening on the roof, Banjo and Kazooie come face to face with Grunty, flying on her living broomstick for the final showdown at the top of her tower.
[Update: Some time the writing of this article I discovered that there is indeed a very excellent modern rendition of the theme by the synthetic music artist Blake Robinson, along with the entire Banjo-Kazooie soundtrack. His music is available on iTunes, so give him a listen.]
Phase 1The fight starts out simple. Grunty repeatedly dive bombs you with her broomstick, which you have to dodge.
Phase 2Grunty starts using her head and throws a homing spell that can't be avoided and must be blocked with the invincibility move (with good timing so as not to waste the golden feathers they use up). Once that move hits, she flies out of reach and starts pelting fireballs with the occasional homing spell. The way the fireballs have the sound effects of powerful fireworks with dynamite-like explosions give them another sense of the anachronism present through the whole game as well as some extra punch.
They can be dodged, but with a little outside-the-box thinking, you'll figure out you can avoid each and every one by standing right behind whichever perimeter stone she flies in front of.
But you can't go up and melee attack her anymore, otherwise you'd immediately fall to your death right off the tower. Instead you must use your projectile attack: the blue eggs. With good timing, the player has to wait for Grunty to pause in her fireball shooting, quickly jump on top of the stone they should've been taking cover behind and fire a volley of eggs. When Grunty sees that moving out of range isn't helping, she takes to the skies.
Phase 3"A big old gal I may just be, but when I fly you won't get me!"
Except you will.
Grunty flies high into the sky, even further out of reach, but your good old friend Boggles creates a flight pad to allow you to fly after her and use your aerial Beak Bombardment attack to hit her.
You can see the escalating difficulty at this point. If you run out of red feathers to fly higher, try to land when the castle isn't below you or miss her with your attack and hit the edge of the stage, you're dead. You can't screw up! All the while you have to dodge the fireballs she hurls, which both hurt you and discombobulate your flight. Part of the challenge can be blamed on the loose flight controls, admittedly, but that's something you were supposed to have gotten used to.
Phase 4Seeing that there's no way she can avoid you, Grunty instead goes for a defensive approach and covers herself in a magic barrier in the middle of the stage.
But more help arrives in the form of the Jinjos you've been rescuing through the whole game, except these ones seem to have been sealed in statues. Each of the four statues has a hole you must shoot three eggs into (those things can do anything) to release the Jinjo sealed inside and ram into Grunty, bypassing her shield. She doesn't make it that easy, of course. Her fireballs and homing attacks keep coming and this time she's in the center of the stage, so you can't take cover. You have to quickly get into shooting position and fire so you don't get hit by her magic.
After the last sealed Jinjo slams into her, Grunty's broomstick shatters and grounds her on one of the perimeter rocks, but she still has her shield up. With Grunty still invulnerable, it seems there's nothing more you can do. You expended all the Jinjos, Gruny's shield still protects her from anything you can throw at her and she starts leading the target with her fireball attacks, requiring you to constantly change direction to dodge them. It goes on for a good long minute until one last Jinjo status rises from the center of the tower: The all-powerful, never-again-referred-to Jinjonator!
It's pretty much inevitable that you're going to get hit, which is why it's a great help to have the double life bar a jigsaw portrait in the cauldron room can give you.
If you can survive Grunty's onslaught and activate the Jinjonator, you bear witness to the witch's ultimate defeat. The other Jinjos fly into the Jinjonator to combine their power with his for one final Jinjo strike.
Gruntilda reels in pain as she holds her shield up against the Jinjonator's incredibly powerful musical sting-accompanied dive bombing, but the Jinjonator has power to spare. He shouts "Jinjo" in a slow, booming voice before charging into Grunty with one last ultra-powered slam.
|I love her expression.|
But the game is just faking you out. It misses.
|You don't even move.|
Struggle as she might, neither Gruntilda nor her crony Klungo is able to heave the boulder from off of her. She remains trapped in the ground and slowly starves to death.
Or she possesses a mecha Grunty and gets her sisters to bust her out as a skeleton, but that's not until later.
Why it's the bestThe final battle of Banjo-Kazooie is the quintessential example of a final exam boss. It makes you use all the close range, long range, aerial and dodging abilities you've been learning through the game as its ultimate test.
Furthermore, Grunty thinks on her feet through the entire thing. She doesn't resort to tactical suicide like a lot of platformer bosses are known to do. It only takes a few good hits for Grunty to realize her method of attack isn't working. She tries dive bombing for a hit & run, but her broomstick can't take it and she keeps getting hit, so she instead gets out of range to keep away. When she sees that doesn't work, she gets even further away by taking to the skies where the eggs can't fire, and when that doesn't work she stops playing evasively and instead plays defensively with her shield, positioning herself in the middle of the arena so she can shoot at any spot on the tower.
Her last position on the edge of the tower might be argued as tempting fate, but it gave her elevation and covered her back, at least. That or she's so out of shape she doesn't want to bother moving, which given some of her dialogue throughout the game, seems kind of likely.
The fight with Gruntilda in Banjo Tooie is a great ending to an even better game, but it isn't as memorable as this one. That boss feels less like a final exam, drags on (100 hit points!) and you don't even fight the witch herself so much as her sisters' tank.
That a game from the 90s has made it into this multi-generation-spanning top 10 list either says something about how masterfully made and timeless it is, how blinded I am by nostalgia, or how weak modern-day games have made their finales by comparison. It also shows that you don't need cutting edge presentation to make something epic and impactful, a trait shared by the next final boss battle at #9.